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Charles Eisenstein – The Waters of Heterodoxy: Gerald Pollack’s “The Fourth Phase of Water”

In “The Fourth Phase of Water,” Gerald Pollack offers an elegant new theory of water chemistry that has profound implications not only for chemistry and biology, but for the metaphoric foundation of our understanding of reality and our treatment of nature.

Let me emphasize that this is not a New Age book by someone of questionable scientific credentials. This is a book on chemistry, albeit one easily accessible to lay people. Pollack is a highly decorated professor at the University of Washington, author of numerous peer-reviewed papers, recipient of the 2012 Prigogine Medal, and editor of the academic journal Water. I mention this because in a field fraught with what some call pseudo-science, but what I’ll politely call speculative inquiry unburdened by scientific rigor, paradigm-busting theories attract an inordinate degree of hostility.

Indeed, Pollack devotes one of the early chapters to two such episodes: the polywater debacle of the 1960s, and the water memory controversy twenty years later. These illuminate some of the politics of science-as-institution and means by which dissident views are suppressed. Furthermore, as I will touch on later, they also reveal some of the sacrosanct metaphysical assumptions underlying science as we know it – assumptions that the present book indirectly violates. It is no wonder then that it has encountered a mixed, and in some cases decidedly chilly, reception in scientific circles. Notwithstanding all that, The Fourth Phase of Water avoids any of the stridency or persecution stories that sometimes color heterodox books. The tone is courteous, conversational, and cautious when presenting more speculative ideas.

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